Cul-de-sac of the stars Howard County: With network cameras and gawkers, planned city isn't dullsville.

January 29, 1998

WILL SMITH'S reign in Columbia was brief. Last month, residents strained to catch a glimpse of Mr. Smith, star of television and two big-screen blockbusters. He had been hanging around town while filming a movie with Gene Hackman in Baltimore. But no longer is the former Fresh Prince the most sought-after celebrity in the suburban city that Rouse built.

Nowadays, Linda R. Tripp is the person everyone wants to see.

Thrill-seekers had ventured to Cricket Pass in Columbia's Hickory Ridge even before a Sun story about the sudden media crush there.

Yesterday, television camera crews from ABC-TV and NBC-TV waited inside their vans, as they do daily, ready to spring into action when Ms. Tripp enters or leaves her single-family home. They wait to feed images to an audience captivated by the allegations that President Clinton had sex with a White House intern and lied about it.

Regular folks stake out the house, too. Some come to the cul-de-sac to get a glimpse of the woman whose explosive audiotapes triggered the president's latest, and perhaps greatest, crisis. Sightings of Ms. Tripp have been rare, so those hoping to see her are likely to be disappointed. And forget about seeing the telephone inside from which she taped conversations with the former intern, Monica Lewinsky.

The ABC-TV crew, whose job requires incredible patience to sit for hours and just as much impatience when the big moment comes, reports that plenty of cars turn into the cul-de-sac to catch a peek at Ms. Tripp or her home.

Some visitors stop to snap pictures. Even rain doesn't deter sightseers. Neighbors on Cricket Pass naturally are excited by the attention.

All of this seems strange in Columbia, a place where nothing happens because it's not supposed to. Howard County tourism officials, more accustomed to directing people toward historic Ellicott City or the restored artisans' mill in Savage, might consider packaging a visit to the places where Mr. Smith dined and Ms. Tripp shops for groceries.

After all, with the Washington Monument closed for repair, the folks who run capital-area sightseeing tours may be looking for new places to visit.

Pub Date: 1/29/98

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